When we originally began crafting this blog, it was our intention to make this a quick read; a rapid-fire burst of facts to help inform our community about the dangers of drinking bottled water. However, as we delved deeper into the research and information around bottled water practices – we were astounded at the information we found and felt like it was all important to share.
Some things just can’t be reduced down to simplistic sound bites.
So we decided that, in light of the Coronavirus forcing people to remain at home where they have more time to read, we would release this as a blog series through the month. We hope that you find this information as valuable and eye-opening as it was for us water experts to research.
It seems like it’s impossible to go to a family picnic or public event where plastic water bottles aren’t being sold. Even more annoying, many events and venues FORCE you to purchase their plastic bottled water rather than allowing you to fill up your own refillable bottle.
And my, oh my, is there a great deal of money being made. According to the International Bottled Water Association, bottled water is now the nation’s best selling bottled beverage. But that’s about where the good news ends. Bottled water comes with a whole slew of horrible costs, financial and otherwise, for those who consume it.
Read on and find out more about what exactly that “convenience” is costing you and your family.
Reason 1: It’s worse than tap water.
In June of 2019, the Center for Environmental Health – a nonprofit out of Oakland, CA – reported that it had found high levels of arsenic in Starkey bottled water (sold from Whole Foods) and Panafiel (owned by Keurig Dr. Pepper). Consumer Reports found out that the Food and Drug Administration knew of the arsenic levels in Panafiel bottled water since 2013.
Between 2016 and 2017, Starkey bottled water recalled over 2000 cases of water after tests by regulators showed arsenic levels way higher than the permitted 10 parts per billion. A year later, Whole Food’s own testers showed the arsenic level to be just below the allowed threshold – but according to many experts, that amount is still dangerous to consume on a regular basis.
For example, according to the Environmental Working Group’s analysis, 10 parts per billion as a limit is “not low enough to protect public health, potentially causing up to 600 cancer cases in 1 million people who drink arsenic- contaminated water for a lifetime. A more recent EPA analysis, from a 2010 draft report, suggests that arsenic is much more toxic than previously estimated.”
Consumer Reports advocates for the permitted amount of 10 parts per billion to be reduced to 3 parts per billion, while the Environmental Working Group agrees with the State of California’s goal of 4 parts per TRILLION as a safe limit.
After tracking down and reviewing hundreds of public records and test reports from bottled water brands, Consumer Reports found the following brands to be contaminated with arsenic levels higher that 3 ppb: Starkey (owned by Whole Foods), Peñafiel (owned by Keurig Dr Pepper), Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water, Volvic (owned by Danone), Crystal Creamery and EartH₂O.
Interestingly enough, bottled water isn’t held to the same standards as tap water. During their research, Consumer Reports found that states have differing guidelines for safe levels of arsenic in tap water vs. bottled water (tap water having stricter thresholds) and that it was much more difficult to find public records on bottled water. Further, some states destroy testing reports after a year and others “don’t collect them at all.”
The irony here that we as water experts see is that it isn’t all that difficult to remove arsenic in the first place with some basic filtration equipment. Considering these companies make a mint off of something that’s a free resource, they – above all – should be able to pony up for some arsenic filtration.
Reason 2: Even without arsenic, it’s bad for your health.
The main issue is the plastic itself. Plastic is made from a variety of different materials that are either toxic chemicals themselves or have the quaint ability to absorb toxic chemicals around them. Plastic that hangs out in the sun is even more likely to be riddled with toxicity.
Here are some of the things you’ll find comprise plastic bottles: Dioxin, Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), Bisphenol A (BPA) and it’s sister chemicals that they use in “BPA free” bottles, Bisphenol S (BPS) & Bisphenol F (BPF) – and no, they’re not any safer.
While one could go into excruciating detail on how each of these lovely compounds specifically impacts us (click on the hyperlinks to read about them individually) – the main thing you need to know is that these are (or contain) persistent, bioaccumulative toxic substances, or PBTs – and that they never go away, instead breaking down into smaller and smaller parts, they are toxic for us and animals, and that as they make their way up the food chain they actually “biomagnify”, becoming more toxic – or, in the words of the Environmental Protection Agency, “leading to toxic effects at higher trophic levels even though ambient concentrations are well below toxic thresholds.”
Because they’re not very water soluble, in the ocean they separate out, going to hang out either at the surface or in the sediment at the bottom. The EPA describes, “When PBTs encounter plastic debris, they tend to preferentially sorb (take up or hold) to the debris. In effect, plastics are like magnets for PBTs.”
And the more weathered, fragmented, or old that plastic is, the more it attracts them.
So the next time you’re out traveling and you’re snorkeling in the ocean and you come across some of that plastic debris, just know that you’re swimming in a sea of PBT magnets.
And now it seems like the right moment to mention microplastics, which are defined as plastic pieces smaller than 5 mm. As previously mentioned, plastic doesn’t degrade and doesn’t go away. Instead it just breaks down into smaller and smaller parts. There’s even such a thing as “nanoplastics”.
And they’re EVERYWHERE. A recent review collated 50 studies in which they found microplastics in drinking water, waste water and fresh water. Some of these studies counted thousands of microplastic particles in every liter of drinking water. According to this National Geographic article, a recent study says its possible humans are ingesting 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles a year – and that’s probably a conservative estimate. (And when you consider inhalation, then the number shoots up to 74,000 particles a year!)
And here’s the kicker: bottled water is, again, more contaminated than tap water. NatGeo reports, “People who meet their recommended water intake through tap water ingest an additional 4,000 plastic particles annually, while those who drink only bottled water ingest an additional 90,000, the study found.”
So rather than hoarding bottled water during the outbreak, you might be better served to rely on your tap water. I know this news probably comes late to many of you – but for those of you who didn’t respond to the COVID-19 crisis by buying a bunch of water, go ahead and pat yourself on the shoulder.
Next week we will be covering the environmental impact, the shady business practices of bottled water companies, and the HUGE hidden costs of buying bottled water.